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What's behind Saudi Arabia’s decision to restore ties with Canada?

Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador in 2018 following Canada’s criticism of women’s rights activists in the Gulf country.
Saudi students visit booths of Canadian universities during the International Exhibition & Conference on Higher Education, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, April 19, 2011.

The decision by Saudi Arabia and Canada to restore ties on Wednesday to their normal level after a five-year rift reinforces Riyadh's newly pursued soft power approach, as it attempts to stabilize its foreign relations in a way that advances its economic and defense interests.

The move, experts tell Al-Monitor, corresponds with wave of reconciliation efforts that Saudi Arabia has embarked on with Qatar, Iran, and Yemen's Houthis recently, departing from rifts that marked the policy of the last six years. But with Canada, the move secures trade, educational and defense interests that both sides share. 

Background: In 2018, the Canadian Embassy in Riyadh tweeted in Arabic calling for the release of women’s rights activists in detention in Saudi Arabia. In response, Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador in Ottawa, expelled Canada’s ambassador and banned new trade.

Relations subsequently continued at a lower level. In November of last year, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference in Thailand. 

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